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PIRELLI.COM / RACING

20 action-packed
weekends in Spain
before the Montmelò era

The love affair between Spain and grand prix racing is a long-lasting one. And it goes back to the very roots of Spanish culture, as until not so long ago Formula 1® was a lot less safe than it is now. So the inevitable comparisons that have always been made in Spain between drivers and matadors made a lot of sense. Myths grew up around both figures, celebrating their association with daring and risk. And this, of course, was a legend born many years before the Montmelò circuit, close to Barcelona, was even thought of. The history of grand prix racing in Spain started in 1951: only the second season of the world championship.  

It was said that Generalissimo Francisco Franco himself wanted to see racing cars on the city streets. And so the Pedralbes street circuit was pressed into action: more than six kilometres long within the eponymous district of Barcelona, and mostly consisting of straights. It was the terrifying accident at Le Mans in 1955 that finally brought the career of Pedralbes as an F1® street circuit to a close. 
But Spain loved racing back then as much as it does now, so after a 13-year break, grand prix action resumed closer to Madrid, on the more modern and safer Jarama circuit.
In total, nine Spanish grands prix were held at Jarama and at least two of them are inextricably linked with Ferrari history. In 1974, the circuit witnessed Niki Lauda’s first victory with Ferrari, exhibiting the form that would make him a three-time world champion 10 years later. 

In 1981 it was the final win in the all too short career of Gilles Villeneuve. That year, the Canadian star was driving Ferrari’s very first turbocharged car.  The six-cylinder engine was extremely powerful and distinctly brutal in the way it delivered its monstrous power. Villeneuve’s only chance was to make use of its untouchable speed on the straights before defending in the corners: his rivals helped by their less powerful but more driveable normally aspirated cars. 
The tactic worked, as Villeneuve led home a single-file procession to stand on the top step of the podium for the sixth and last time.
Montjuich Park was another street circuit, which ran through the hills overlooking Barcelona, but it had an unremarkable history. The obvious exception was 1975, when the drivers threatened to go on strike on Saturday because of guardrails that had been incorrectly fitted. They were adjusted overnight and the grand prix got away as planned, but it was stopped after 29 laps following a tragic accident for Rolf Stommelen’s Embassy Lola. The car’s rear wing ended up in the grandstand as a lethal projectile, causing the deaths of five spectators and the end of Montjuich as a Formula 1® venue.

The final Spanish circuit to precede the Montmelò era was Jerez, which hosted five Spanish grands prix. The final one in 1990 was won by Alain Prost, giving Ferrari hope that they might just have a shot at the title that year. Three races later, the championship trophy was in the hands of Ayrton Senna and McLaren. 
It wasn’t quite the end of the road for grand prix racing in Andalusia because other races at Jerez followed, as the European Grand Prix. Once that race came to an end, following the controversial championship decider between Jacques Villeneuve and Michael Schumacher in 1997, Jerez was only used in Formula 1® for testing.

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